Comelec chief, sequestered firms kept accounts in LDB

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THE National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has discovered that some sequestered firms managed by the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) during the chairmanship of Juan Andres Bautista had maintained accounts with Luzon Development Bank (LDB).

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Minerva Retanal, NBI Anti-Fraud Division executive officer, on Wednesday testified that she made the discovery when the agency started investigating the allegations of Bautista’s estranged wife, Patricia, that he amassed nearly P1 billion in hidden wealth that included cash deposits and condominium units.

The Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) is also investigating Patricia’s claim that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman has over P329.2 million bank deposits with the LDB.

He allegedly also maintains a dollar account with Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC) amounting to $12,778.30 or P640,959.53; an RCBC peso account with P257,931.60; and an HSBC (Hongkong Shanghai Banking Corp.) account with HK$948,358.97 or P6.10 million.

Mel Georgie Racela, Anti Money Laundering Council Secretariat executive director, and Retanal declined to elaborate on the progress of their investigation, citing the Bank Secrecy Law.

Bautista supposedly has 35 separate accounts with LDB, a small thrift bank, 30 of which are in the lender’s Fort Bonificio, Taguig City branch and the remaining five in the Makati City branch.

Racela and Retanal on Wednesday attended an inquiry called by the Senate Committee on Banks, led by Sen. Francis Escudero, on Bautista’s alleged ill-gotten wealth in relation to possible violations of the Anti Money Laundering Act (AMLA).

Retanal said the bank accounts in question were closed in 2016 when Bautista took over as Comelec chief. Bautista served as PCGG chairman from Sept. 13, 2010 up to April 27, 2015.

LDB, the 5th largest thrift bank in the country, assured the committee that it had “religiously complied” with its reportorial duties under the AMLA and signified its intention to cooperate with the investigation.

Sen. Grace Poe however believes there was a deliberate move to conceal Bautista’s financial transactions amid reports that he deposited less than P500,000 every other day with LDB apparently to evade monitoring by the AMLC and BSP.

“Obviously, his acts of opening several accounts with large daily deposits should have served as red flags especially since it is public knowledge that a government officer receives a modest salary,” she said.

“The bank should therefore have reported all of these to the BSP and AMLC in their Covered Transactions Report. It is not enough that LDB submits reports to the BSP; the law requires that any suspicious transaction should be reported to the AMLC,” Poe said.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon asked Retanal on whether the NBI had sought a court order to examine Bautista’s bank details.

“I mentioned that in the context of protecting the general citizenry and depositors from harassment by the government because without that limitation on the authority of the NBI, the NBI can be used by the powers that be in order to harassed opponents of this administration,” he said.

Escudero said closed bank accounts can be looked into because these are no longer covered by the Bank Secrecy Law.

“A closed account is no longer covered by the Bank Secrecy law nor by the provisions of the General Banking Act given the absence of funds in the custody of the bank,” Escudero said after the LDB refused to answer questions regarding the closed accounts of Bautista.

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